Thursday, February 28, 2019

A Special Place for VERY Special Children

When the Lord called us to preach the gospel and serve the poor along the US/Mexico border, we DID NOT KNOW what lay ahead; we didn't even know exactly what this part of the country looked like.  All WE DID KNOW was that Jesus had a plan and that plan was good!
This is the U.S./Mexico border near the Lord's Ranch. Left of the wall is Anapra, in the Mexican state of Chihuahua.  On the right is Santa Teresa, in the U.S. state of New Mexico.

When we cross into Mexico and drive along the wall there is nothing but sand, rocks and scraggly plants for as far as the eye can see. We drive and drive and then out of nowhere appears the small town of Anapra.

In Anapra people live without the luxuries that many take for granted: water, food, medicine, security, garbage disposal, clothing. The first time we visited Anapra my heart felt heavier than lead as I considered the overwhelming hardships that families endure living in these types of circumstances. I know that when reliable employment is unavailable that people's basic needs consistently go unmet and that the stress that this causes within families is more than anyone should have to bear.  Substance abuse, domestic violence, teen pregnancy, suicide, and participation in illegal activities which promise hope for the future are all par for the course.

As we drove through the streets of Anapra I thought about the stress that every parent feels when his/her child is sick or suffering. I prayed for the little ones that we buried in Peru who died of preventable illnesses because they didn't have access to proper medical care.  I thought about how difficult it would be to raise kids with so few resources and prayed for the mothers that we passed who had a line of little ones in tow.  It wasn't until we arrived at "Guadalupana" that I considered the real impact of poverty on families with chidren who have special needs.

We've been told that the public schools here in Mexico are not equipped to assist children with disabilities (mental or physical); therefore, they are required to stay home. Tragically, these youngsters are often neglected because their family members are too busy trying to survive.

Devastated by these circumstances, the Sisters of Charity were moved to action.  Around 2002, "Proyecto Santo Nino" (translated as "Holy Child Project") began, the doors of "Guadalupana" opened for the first time, and the loving sisters welcomed those in most need.  To read more about the customized instruction and neuro-physical therapy that the Sisters of Charity provide to children with extreme disabilities, please visit their website:

This is the school that the Sister of Charity started in Anapra about 16 years ago.

When the school first opened it was difficult to get the students to the school for their therapy and instruction.  However, they now have a bus that travels all over to pick up the kids and their family members.

As the families arrive they gather in the main room.  The kids excitedly begin their tactile exercises. Many of the parents circulate to assist kids in need.

Other parents sit off to the side and socialize.  I'm embarrassed to admit that my initial impression of these mothers came from a place of judgment.  After talking with them I realized how desperately they needed a break from the stress of their very demanding lives. I also realized that the moms found great comfort in talking with others who understood their hardships in a real way.

In this photo, you can one mom sitting alone.  I considered joining her but concluded that she was emotionally
exhausted and just wanted a moment of quiet.  The moms in the back are enjoying the companionship of others
that understand exactly what they're going through and listen compassionately as they share what's on their minds.

In the main room, there is an area that is often sectioned off to give a particular group special attention.

Today, when we were visiting, the younger kids with mental disabilities were doing an art project.  This is one of the kids' favorite activities because it's something they NEVER get to do at home.

Throughout the day, kids are taken a few at a time to another room where the nuns, and those they've trained as helpers, provide specialized therapy which helps to correct the physical problems causing the children trouble.  The nuns' specialties include neuromuscular therapy, physical therapy, and water therapy to name just a few.  It was incredible to see children running around who had been confined to wheelchairs just a few short years ago!  Thank you, Jesus, for using these humble women to rescue these families from the darkness in which they were living.

Anna spent the entire morning translating so that these two women
could talk and share ideas.
In addition to the physical therapy that is provided, there are also teachers who customize instruction which helps kids to overcome academic deficiencies. The woman on the left, in the gray hat, is a local volunteer who has helped at the center for years. Although she has a huge heart, she recognizes her own limitations and lack of specialized knowledge. The woman on the right, in the pink vest, is a nun who is also a reading specialist. She recently began working at the center and is eager to share her knowledge with the volunteers, but her Spanish is a bit rusty.  Thank you, Jesus, for using Anna to connect these women for your glory!

At Guadalupana our primary job is to play with the kids who aren't receiving individualized attention.  Michael found a table of Lincoln Logs and had a bunch of fun building with the other kids.

One of our mission partners donated soccer balls for the kids in Mexico.  Jack and Michael are always happy to play out in the street with the siblings of the disabled kids who have just recently started coming to the center so that they aren't left at home alone, where there are countless temptations to do unholy things.

Katelyn and Yadida have found a beautiful friendship in one another and seek each other out each time we go.  As I watch them giggle and laugh together it's hard to tell who is having more fun!!

As our time here in Mexico comes to an end we reflect on the Lord's goodness.  We thank Him for all the experiences we've had here which have increased our awareness of people's needs and deepened our love for His precious children.

We DO NOT KNOW exactly what lay ahead, but we DO KNOW that Jesus has a plan and that plan is good!

We'd love to hear from you via email:

If the Holy Spirit in nudging you to support us financially so that we can 
continue serving those in most need, please visit either:

call Family Missions Company at (337) 893 - 6111.

Thank you and God Bless!
In HIM, Karen Carmody

Monday, February 18, 2019

Panama @ World Youth Day 2019

I really like the song Oceans by Hillsong.  In that song, it says, 
"Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders...
and my faith will be made stronger, in the presence of my Savior."  
That's exactly what happened when the Spirit led me to Panama for World Youth Day. 

World Youth Day (Jornada Mundial de la Juventud in Spanish) is a time for young adults from our worldwide Catholic church to come together to celebrate our love for Jesus and have fun inside of our faith.

Here I am at the airport with my parents the morning I left to go to Panama....all by myself.
It was my first solo flight ever.  I was excited and scared at the same time!

The Lord's Ranch Food Bank Youth Group
ranges in age from 17 - 24. 

This is the group I met up with in Panama City. They are from Juarez, Mexico where they all belong to The Lord's Ranch Food Bank Youth Group. They also help run the activities at Las Alitas, which is a neighborhood mission house in Jaurez.

Ramona and Armando Solano are the youth group leaders and chaperoned the trip. They've been part of The Lord's Ranch community for about 15 years and are in charge of most of the Mexican ministries. Once a week they're State-side, but the rest of the time they're serving the poor in Juarez.  Ramona and Armando are a very self-sacrificing and loving couple that has a special way of connecting with the youth, no matter what situation they are in. They were very patient and spirit led while we were in Panama.

When we got to Panama we were paired up and taken to different Panamanian people's houses. Ramona and I stayed at the home of Elva, a super sweet older lady. She was a frequent attendee at the Catholic church a couple blocks away and was super excited to have us as guests. She and her husband didn't live together anymore, but she lived with her cat, Chepi, in a two bedroom apartment. She was up every day before we left and was waiting for us when we got back at night. She cooked for us and even insisted on washing our clothes while we were out during the day. She was a Godsend and made even a foreign country feel like home. When we left she was crying and said she will always keep us in her prayers and hopes to see us again - even if that's in heaven.

The first two days we had catechism in the morning with all the other Spanish speaking youth. This consisted of dance, prayer, Mass, amazing homilies, and incredible testimonies from the youth.  It was so exciting to see teens from all over the world, who had traveled so far, for the same reason... because they love Jesus!!

I'm on the right side by the person with the bright yellow shirt - see me?
In our catechism group, there were teens from over 20 different Latin American countries.  Seeing all of them made it hit home - we were actually there and it was really happening.

It was REALLY BIG for the kids in my group, to be able to see people (in person) from so many different places, because none of them had ever been outside of Mexico ever in their life...which means they've mostly only ever seen other Mexicans.

The group that I went with was very accepting of me as if I were one of them. They included me in their jokes, stories, and pictures. I felt like I was able to be myself with them even though before going on the trip I knew only three of them....a little bit. We were a very animated group and made the whole time seem like a party just because we love Jesus so much.

On our way to the pope's opening Mass, we were surprised and blessed by a group of Jewish men giving out water for free to all the pilgrims passing their synagogue. When we asked if we could take a picture with them we could tell we weren't the first to ask.

Next, we headed over to the 4-block long line to get into the enclosed space where the pope was going to be. While we were waiting in line we were blessed by a group from Guatemala that led everyone around us in song and dances. We were waiting for about 3 hours before we finally got into where the pope was going to be.

This is a shot of people waiting around for the pope's opening Mass and his arrival at the coast.

I could feel the eager anticipation of the youth while we were waiting.

The theme of the whole WYD was "Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word ." ( Lk 1:38)

Pope Francis' opening Mass was put on by the Panamanian people.
There were traditional dances and presentations of gifts and song.
The pope's message at the opening mass was more of a question " What does God want of you in this life?" He proposed this question and then went on to explain that sometimes we know what God wants from us and other times we just need to go forward with trust just as Mary did when asked to be the mother of God with a fervent and honest yes.

There also was a song that was created along with the theme of WYD and if you would like to listen to it just click here > SONG 
This is Pope Francis leading the meditations for
the Stations of the Cross. 

On Friday after going to catechism we headed to the mall to relax a bit. I ended up going to a 2-hour long dragon ball Z movie( about a Japanese anime character called Goku) that was incredibly boring and loud. Then we went back to the coast to wait for the pope to arrive and lead the Stations of the Cross.

His reflections were incredible and very applicable to our daily life.

After the pope's amazing reflections there was a concert in like ten languages and we got to go almost up to the front of the stage to watch. It was incredible to hear people from all over the world singing and praising Our Lord Jesus Christ; even though I couldn't understand all the songs, it was beautiful in its own way!!!

On Saturday we left early in the morning to head to the Campo San Juan Pablo Segundo for the vigil. We thought it would be a good idea to stay the night at the campo after the vigil because the following morning was the pope's last Mass and sending off. We were given a bag with food for the night and then headed down the closed-off highway about 2 hours walking to the field to set up our stuff. When we got there we quickly realized that we hadn't been the only ones to have this idea. It was estimated that there were around 800,000 pilgrims there for the vigil. All I could see in any direction was heads of people. We spent the afternoon using hand motions to try and explain how to play different games with teens from all over the world. It was challenging but super fun. I could feel their excitement at being there and their love of Jesus in everything they did. Everyone was always smiling no matter what, everywhere I looked.

Related imageWhen the sun had started to set Pope Francis arrived and he asked everyone for 5 minutes of silence before starting the Eucharistic adoration. Lo and behold, you could have heard someone cough, it was the most silence I have ever experienced and that's incredible for 800,000 people who are all crammed together in a small space. It goes to show the respect that everyone has for Pope Francis.

After the silence was over and the adoration started I was yet again amazed at how prayerful and reverent the multitude of people was. The adoration lasted about 2 hours and then there was more dancing and song afterward. We had come very unprepared in our sleeping arrangments compared to other groups. We had brought trash bags and blankets to sleep on and our backpacks as pillows. Although we weren't completely comfortable it was still amazing to be around sooooo many people that are so fired up for the lord. We got little sleep because of the dance circles and singing that was going on around us well into the morning.

Around 6am the speakers blared to life with morning announcements.  The pope would soon be there for his last Mass and sending off. So after getting up and eating breakfast out of our bags of snacks we all got ready and cleaned up our light sleeping arrangements. The last Mass was very compelling and the pope's homily was very much directed towards the future of the church is the youth. He talked about the fact that at this time we have been able to see the worldwide church at a full. This should motivate us to go forth and preach the gospel to our family and friends back at home. He was in a very cheerful mood and made a lot of jokes and told funny stories. I was grateful to be fluent in Spanish because I'm not sure how well his funniness translates.  His attitude made the boiling hot sun a little more bearable. When Pope Francis gave us the final blessing, it was as if you could see the holy spirit descending upon the youth and filling them with a desire to go and preach the gospel while giving an example of their love for Jesus.

We got to see the pope passing by super close as he left.  It was cool!
Here's a video of him:

Later Sunday afternoon, after we walked back from the park where the pope's send-off was, we were invited by one of our host families to go with them to spend the night at their condo on the beach. We got our stuff ready and left for the ferry dock with their two kids - Samid (age 20) and Alexandra (23). We took a ferry over to the island and that was the first time the kids in our group had ever seen the ocean, much less be in a boat. When we got there the first thing they wanted to do was go down to the beach, but Ramona made them go and change into their swimwear first. They spent the whole afternoon until about 8pm in the water playing and making sandcastles. Going to the island was a super blessing that we weren't even counting on. The kids had a blast and it seemed as that was the coolest thing they had ever done in their lives.

This is my favorite picture of us on the beach because you can see the joy of the Lord that was radiating from all of us the whole time.  (I'm the second one from the left)

This video was taken by Samid's drone on the island.  It turned out way cooler than I would have thought.  You can see pretty well where I was.

The fifth over from the left is Manuel. He is from Panama and his family hosted these four guys from our group. He wasn't planning on going to the WYD events, but the guys invited him to come with us and from Day #1 he tagged along with us. He ended up being our personal guide of the city. Manuel was a lot of fun and because he chose to come with us then his faith was also rekindled. He hadn't been attending the Mass, but ever since we left Panama he has gone every Sunday!! It was another awesome unexpected blessing in disguise.

All in all the trip was an amazing blessing to me spiritually. To be able to see the worldwide youth of the Catholic church so fired up about Jesus was very reassuring to what we're doing as missionaries. I was able to be a faith-filled teen having fun among other faith-filled teens just like me. I could feel the presence of the Holy Spirit the whole time I was there. The group was super animated and fun in everything we did from the rosary to song and dance. I was blessed greatly by the things that Pope Francis said about being a witness and example to those around us.  It's exciting to know that I'm not the only one who will be trying to live that out on a daily basis.

Love In Him,
Katelyn S. Carmody